Who Won the Social War (Ancient Rome)
Who won the Social War? The allies war with the Romans involved hundreds of thousands of men and lasted for three years, this war was a turning point for Rome’s political relations with its allies and was significant in the fact that Rome had to readjust politically. When looking at the Social War many confine the meaning of victory in terms of the battlefield, missing out on a vital aspect of war, the terms of peace and the political outcome.
It cannot be determined, whether an army, even if victorious in individual battles, decisively won the war, or whether their success on the battlefields’ was believed to be temporal and not immune to change. This essay will attempt to investigate the question, backed up by literary evidence from the likes of Appian, Livy and Polybus. It would be logical to first assess what the aims of the Italian allies were in making war on Rome, then to determine whether their objectives were met and on what terms.
The causes of the Social War are commonly seen as Rome’s refusal to grant Roman citizenship for the Italian allies. The allies in central and southern Italy had fought alongside Rome in several wars, overtime they began to chaff under Rome’s autocratic hand, desiring the privileges and better equality the citizenship would bring them.
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Events came to a head in 91 BC following the assassination of the Roman tribune Marcus Livius Drusus, who attempted to pass a legislation that would have given citizenship to all Italians and settled a number of disputes.
They saw the citizenship as vital to their business’ abroad and saw an opportunity for fairer treatment by the Roman senate, ‘Their desire to become Romans reflects the success of Rome in unifying them in sentiment and was stimulated by the Cimbric war and by the career of Marius’, indeed many saw the citizenship as their due for the sacrifices on their behalf for the expansion of Rome, ” At the same time… the consuls send their orders to the allied cities in Italy which they wish to contribute troops, stating the numbers required”.
Furthermore, the Italians ‘preferred Roman citizenship to possession of the fields’, Rome’s policy of land distribution had led to great inequality of land ownership and wealth and led to the “Italian race… declining little by little into pauperism and paucity of numbers without any hope of remedy”. After the murder of Drusus, one of the last pro-Italians, the Italians began preparing for war: “The first act of war was by Picentes, who killed proconsul Quintus Servilius in the town Asculum, with all Roman citizens who were in this town. The people put on the war dress”.
Dispute arises over the exact aim of the Italians in the Social War, what is important to note however, is the fact the Italians were not impatient and undiplomatic; their revolt was their final resort. ‘Even at the very last, when they had already taken up arms, the insurgents were to make one more appeal to the senate to concede the franchise’, this is backed up by Appian “The Italians in despair of any other remedy, went on with their mobilization”. A commonly accepted view is that the rebels were fighting in order to share in the Roman citizenship, Empire and power, going further than local autonomy.
Indeed, there were many close ties between Italian and Roman aristocrats, running deeper than just trade and business ties. Another view is that the Italians wanted a complete autonomous state as shown by the creation of an independent capital and coinage, and the risk on their part of inciting a war on such a large scale, “they had forces in common amounting to about 100,000 foot and horse. The Romans sent an equal force against them, made up if their own citizens and of the Italian peoples who were still in alliance with them”.
Many see the allies choice of creating their own coinage as a potent one, the choice of their designs can be interpreted as their solidarity with one another and their hostility towards the Romans, as shown by the depiction of eight men holding swords towards a pig- a way of making a sworn oath in ancient Italy. However, this can be open to interpretation, the creation of a new coinage would have most likely been necessary for purchasing supplies and paying and feeding troops. The images on the coins can be viewed as effective propaganda, aiming to remind the soldiers the justice of their cause.
It can also be argued that a new capital (Italia) was not in fact a desire of the allies to break from Rome when looking at the military nature of the creation of Corfinium. Corfinium was an important base of operations, that offered space to hold and distribute supplies, a large source of food and water . Strategically Italica was necessary to the Italian war effort, the allies needed bases like Corfinium when fighting Rome, whose endless resources were an invaluable asset to their military progress.
The new allied government, was modelled closely on the Roman government, this indicates the high respect the Italians held for the Roman constitution and the doubt cast on the claims that the allies wanted the destruction of Roman rule or a complete separation from it, in addition, a strong argument can be established in relation to the Italians having a vested interest in the continuation of the Roman Empire, Italian businesses benefited from trade and land investments.
The most significant indication that the allies were fighting for Roman citizenship rather than autonomy, is evidential in the depth of Roman power and the likelihood that Rome would be more successful in battle “Quintus Caepio… was besieged and successfully repelled his enemies… Consul Lucius Julius Ceaser fought successfully against the Samnites”. Rome had larger military supplies and a larger force than the allies, as shown by the fact that they were able to reinforce their armies with considerable speed.
Most importantly however, Rome had a huge treasury helped by the spoils of so many wars, which dwarfed anything that the allies could attempt to bring together. This, including the fact that the network of roads across Italy were all centred around Rome, did not give the allies firm belief that they could eventually defeat Rome, or permanently separate themselves. The benefits the Italian allies enjoyed from Rome’s empire made it unlikely that they would want to destroy an empire in which they themselves had so much at stake, and to which they contributed a considerable amount to its formation.
Rome’s predominant influence was extremely well established and its continuity was favourable to Italian interests. Therefore, the rebellion of the allies should not be viewed as an attempt to end Rome, or divorce from it, as shown by the death or exile of the majority of pro-Italian politicians in Rome, the allies had no other alternative to assert their political interests in Rome than war. The outcome of the Social War was for the Italians to gain Roman citizenship, if one can accept that citizenship was the intended aim rather than separation.
The Italian vote was to begin with, less than the proportion of their population, the allies were all grouped into separate tribes and assigned less voted than the 35 Roman tribes. But, the Italians were eventually joined into the Roman tribes and Italy unified. It is not likely that the allies were rooting for total victory in the Social War in order to achieve their aims, for they did not underestimate the power of Rome. Their previous loyalty had undoubtedly helped Rome win the Second Punic War, the Romans were able to recover losses and rebuild its forces hrough the sources of arms, manpower and money, a lot of which came from its allies. However, the Social War challenged the stability Rome felt in its allies, what is important is the fact that although Rome ‘won’ military speaking, but the allies were victorious in terms of diplomacy and social standing. The fact that the allies never strayed from their goal and eventually achieved it is extremely courageous and admirable. Bibliography Brunt, P. A. Italian Aims at the Time of the Social War’, in Fall of the Roman Republic (Oxford, 1988), pp. 90-109. Brunt, P. A. ‘The army and the land in the Roman revolution’ revised in Fall of the Roman Republic (Oxford, 1988), pp. 240-80. Brunt, P. Social Conflicts in the Roman Republic (Oxford, 1971). Bagnall, N. The Punic Wars (London, 1990). Gabba, E. Republican Rome, the Army and the Allies (Oxford, 1976). Goldsworthy, A. The Army at War, 100 BCAD 200 (Oxford, 1996). Frier, B. W.
Roman coinage and army pay: techniques for evaluating statistics (1981), pp. 285-295. The Cambridge Ancient History, vol. IX (2nd ed. ) p188. Scullard, H. H. From the Gracchi to Nero: A History of Rome from 133 BC to AD 68 (London, 1982). Salmon, E. T. ‘Notes on the Social War’, in Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association (Michigan, 1958), pp. 159-184. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. See Brunt. ‘Italian aims at the time of the Social War’ p. 90. [ 2 ].
See Polybus, 6. 21, 4-5. [ 3 ]. See Appian The Civil Wars 3. 21 p. 42 [ 4 ]. See Appian The Civil Wars 1. 9 p. 19 [ 5 ]. See Livy Periochae Book 72 [ 6 ]. See Brunt, ‘Italian aims at the time of the Social War’ p. 93 [ 7 ]. See Appian The Civil Wars 5. 39 p. 76 [ 8 ]. See Appian The Civil Wars 5. 39 p. 76. [ 9 ]. See Livy Periochae Book 37, chapter 2 . [ 10 ]. See Livy Periochae Book 73 1-7 [ 11 ]. See Cambridge Ancient History, Vol. 9. 2nd Ed. p. 188 [ 12 ]. See Appian The Civil Wars 14. 116 p. 225